Banter that bites: office chat that can cost


Company culture is more than often created by the conversations in the office.

Date: Friday 13th November 2015

Company culture is more than often created by the conversations in the office. In some firms the silence is only broken by the furious tapping away of keyboards, however in other offices there’s plenty of friendly banter.

We do love a bit chatter to break up the day. A shared giggle not only boosts spirits but helps to build team spirit, but one person’s joke is another person’s offensive comment.

A recent study from the University of Missouri found that bad bosses should avoid using sarcasm. In fact the success of a joke between management and the workforce all depends on the job satisfaction levels among employees.

If employees have a high level of job satisfaction they are less likely to take offence from both positive or negative humour used by leaders. Being able to laugh with colleagues is one of the most desirable traits employees desire in management, along with a strong work ethic according to a study by the Bell Leadership Institute.

What about when things go wrong? For example, in the Minto v Wernick Event Hire Ltd (2011) case a manager felt that comments made of a sexual nature in the style of “Carry On” films were friendly banter. But female employee, M, did not feel the same way. The tribunal ruled in her favour saying: “Banter’ is a loose expression, covering what otherwise might be abusive behaviour on the basis that those participating do so willingly and on an equal level.”

There is a school of thought that says humour can help businesses profit. Companies that are less hierarchical and innovative tend to have a relaxed environment where humour is second nature. A jovial environment encourages the exchanging of ideas with happy enthusiasm being infectious.

I think that humour is essential to the workplace to keep a relaxed and productive working environment, because after all we spend so much time at work.  However, there are occasions where it’s not appropriate and can be misinterpreted.  To avoid this clear ground rules can help.

Blog by Aisha Oakley, Head of Outsourcing & Consultancy at Bradfield.  To contact Aisha about this topic or any other HR questions, please email 

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